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Why “Nigerians are criminals” is just a stereotype based on lack of understanding

Dianah Chiyangwa

JOHANNESBURG – Nigerian nationals resident in South Africa held a round-table discussion in Norwood, Johannesburg, to fight stereotypes and bad perceptions, as part of celebrating their country’s independence, on October 3.

The discussion, which marks the West African state’s attainment of black majority rule in 1960, overturning decades of British colonialism was centered on plans to repair the reputation of Nigerians and how they could assist in fighting against crime in South Africa.

Pictures by Dianah Chiyangwa

A proliferation of right-wing groups in South Africa of late has seen migrants, especially Nigerians and Zimbabweans, get captured in the radar of political xenophobes trying to use migrants as a rallying point in their desperate bid to woo voters in the style of America’s jingoistic President Donald Trump.

One such act of political desperation was exposed when a group of protesters under the banner of #PutSouthAfricaFirst marched to the Nigerian Embassy in Pretoria, ostensibly in protest over drugs and human trafficking, on September 23.

The Consular to the Nigerian High Commission, Samuel Udom, who was among the guests at the round-table discussion, bemoaned what he termed as a false narrative about Nigerians living in South, which sought to portray all of them as criminals.

“Criminality knows no nationality”, Udom said, adding that his government was in contact with their South African counterparts, through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).

Different views were expressed during the discussions, on how crime is being leveled on not only Nigerians but also to other foreign nationals living in South Africa as part of blame-shifting on the poor state of the economy and or poor service delivery.

Bongani Mkhwananzi, spokesperson for the Zimbabwean Community in South Africa, said social inclusion and integration were needed among Africans, indicating that there was need to socialize more in order to learn about each other’s cultures.

“The stereotypes against Nigerians are there,” said Mkhwanazi. “However, the truth is that we have criminal and rogue elements in every society, including South Africans. We cannot then paint everyone with the same brush.”

A day before the planned march against foreign nationals, Human Rights Watch Director, Dewa Mavhinga said: “The march could fuel xenophobic violence and the biggest problem is that when people have xenophobic sentiments and target foreign nationals, law enforcement has often failed or simply proved unwilling to stop these attacks.”

Apostle Chisom Olusakwe, founder of Deep Institute Outreach Zone of No Defeat Program and Viva Nation TV said: “As far as Nigerians are concerned, the loudest noise is that they are bad, yet there are many of them among us who are doing many positive things.”

He added that they, as the Nigerian community, were creating platforms not to address social ills leveled against them, but to speak up against such other pressing issues like gender-based violence, femicide, women and child abuse.

Denise Mothiba, a South African citizen, said the media should also get involved to help fulfill its mandate to report on credible information.

“The media should be visible in such productive discussions so that it helps correct public perceptions and opinions about significant such social issues, to bridge the information gap and put correct information at the forefront, urging people to do something to change socially,” said Mothiba.

The night of the celebrations was graced with live entertainment from guests’ Disc Jockeys and artists, music and comedy.

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